NOTE: Father Reardon’s Daily Reflections can also be found at the Daily Readings page. For a limited time the readings are available to all.

Friday, May 15

Psalms 38 (Greek & Latin 37): Whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual—or all of them together—what we suffer in this life are the incursions of death, and death is simply sin becoming incarnate and dwelling among us, for “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

Such is the essential conviction of our prayer in this psalm: “For my iniquities are gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my folly.”

The proper response to sin and suffering? Confession of sins and the sustained cultivation of repentance, for “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Thus we pray in this psalm: “For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin.” Notwithstanding a widespread heresy that says otherwise, repentance is not something done once, and all finished; it is something to be perfected until the end of our lives. This sorrow for sin, says our psalm, is continual, ongoing. Every suffering we are given in this life is a renewed call to repentance. Every pain is, as it were, the accusing finger of Nathan: “You are the man” (2 Sam. 12:7).

Ezekiel 35: In this chapter we find expressed toward the Edomites, symbolized in Mount Seir, that same spirit of bitter condemnation that inspired the entire prophecy of Obadiah and the last several verses of Psalm 137 (136).

The material here expands on ideas found in a seminal form in Ezekiel 25:12-14. Edom has assisted and cheered on the Babylonians in their wanton destruction of the temple (cf. 1 Esdras 4:45). Ezekiel is our witness that the Edomites hoped to annex territory left open by the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (verse 10), but they will not do so, he tells us, because God has other plans for that land. Those plans of God form the substance of the next chapter.

The Edomites in the Bible comprised what we may call . . . well, a special case. Israel did not like them very much. Indeed, the Lord had to command Israel not to despise the Edomites (Deuteronomy 23:7), a thing they were prompted to do, perhaps, on the excuse that the Lord Himself was said to hate Esau, the father of the Edomites (Malachi 1:2; Romans 9:13). Truth to tell, the Edomites were not easy to love. They had obstructed Israel’s path from Egypt during the days of Moses (Numbers 20:21). They were known to be without pity (Amos 1:11) and engaged in international slave trade (1:6,9). For Ezekiel, as for Obadiah, however, the major sin was their attempt to exploit Babylon’s destruction of Judah.

Saturday, May 16

John 9:1-12: This story is about the gift of sight pertains to a theme integral to the entire Gospel of John and the Bible as a whole. The first thing God created, according to Genesis, is “light.” God created light three days before he created the sun and the moon. That light is the inner truth of Creation, which is identical “good” of Creation. Vayar’ Elohim et-ha‘or ki tov—And God saw the light that it was good. This goodness and truth lie at the heart of everything God makes.

The original “vision” in Holy Scripture is God’s own vision of the world. Through man’s intellect God gives him the means of perceiving the same truth God beholds when He looks at the world. Heaven and earth, says Isaiah, are full of his glory. The Hebrew word for glory is kavod. This word has the same radicals as the word kaved, which means “weight.” “Glory” in Hebrew indicates a certain weightiness, a substantiality. One should think of the sheer weightiness of gold. We gain some sense of this in St. Paul’s expression, “eternal weight of glory.”

The intellect enlightened by God’s revelation and grace sees what is really there. His vision is enhanced by God’s own light. This vision of glory is not simply an aesthetic experience, and we attain it as Isaiah did—by entering humbly in the divine presence, our minds purged by the coal from the altar. Isaiah beholds the whole world transformed in glory because he sees the Lord high and lifted up. This vision is available only within the Temple—that is to say, the divine presence, which we approach in humility and prayer. We come into that presence when we enter into our hearts in prayer. We come into that presence when we open God’s Word in faith. We are enabled to see only if we obediently bath our eyes in the pool of Shiloam. This is a metaphor for the life of faith.

Ezekiel 36: As the previous oracle was addressed to Mount Seir in Edom, so this one (verses 1-15) is addressed to the mountains of Israel. It condemns all the nations that have set themselves against God’s people, but special attention is given, once again, to the Edomites (verse 5).

In verse 8 Ezekiel begins a series of several prophecies of the Israelites’ return to their homes. Whereas in Chapter 6 he had infallibly foretold to these same mountains the many sufferings that have since ensued, he now tells them, again infallibly, of the joys that lie ahead.

And why should God perform these mercies, in view of the fact that Israel has deserved all that it has suffered (verses 16-20)? Because of His own gracious election (verses 21-38). God will pour out all these new blessings on His people in order to testify to the gratuity and steadfastness of His choice. God will be faithful, even though Israel has not been faithful.

The most famous lines of this section are in verses 26-28, repetitious of 11:19-20 and reminiscent of Jeremiah 31:31-34. God will restore Israel, not because of the merits of Israel, but to vindicate His covenant fidelity. The gift of cleansing and a new heart is entirely God’s, but it will not be given except in the context of repentance (verse 31).

Sunday, May 17

1 Corinthians 16:13-24: In this exhortation to faith, St. Paul says simply, “Stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” I draw your attention to the fact that all three of these imperative verbs are in the plural: Stand fast, be brave (literally “be manly”—andrízesthe), be strong.

Obviously, the plural is required, inasmuch as Paul is addressing all of the Corinthians. Nonetheless, the use of the plural also indicates that he has in mind a joint effort. These are the things that a commander says to soldiers who are about to be attacked: stand fast, be brave, be strong. The survival of all of them depends on the combined efforts of each of them.

Yet, those combined efforts are more than a mere accumulation. It is not as though the faith of ten believers is ten times as strong as the faith of one believer. It is more likely the case that the faith of ten believers is closer to a hundred times as strong as one believer.

The reason for this is simple: Believers not only believe for themselves, they also support the faith of one another. For this reason, a community of faith has vastly more than the accumulated faith of individual believers. The spiritual chemistry of each believer affects the spiritual chemistry of those around him.

The major sin of those Corinthians was their failure to support the faith of one another. Each of them was acting without regard for the others. It is a plain fact that Christians cannot live that way and very long remain Christians, because the Christian faith is a corporate concern.

It is a “corporate” concern according to the etymological sense of the Latin root corpus, which means “body.” We observe that it was in First Corinthians that the Apostle Paul first introduced the image of the Christian congregation as a “body”: “for as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”

It is this corporate nature of the Christian faith that requires that we stand fast, be brave, and be strong. In the matter of the faith, each of us depends on all of us.

Ezekiel 37: We come now to Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones, unarguably the best-known part of this book. It consists of a Spirit-given experience (verses 1-10), followed by an interpretation (verses 11-14). In its immediate historical sense, the valley of the dry bones represents Israel after Jerusalem’s destruction in 586.

As a prophecy to be fulfilled in the fullness of time, it refers to the resurrection of the dead, of which the principle and first-fruit is the Resurrection of Christ.

In this vision the dynamic principle in the resurrection of the dead is the same Spirit who brought the prophet to the valley (verse 1).

The reader should bear in mind that, all through this chapter, there is a single Hebrew word (ruah) translated in different ways (“Spirit,” “breath,” “wind”), simply because no one English word expresses the fullness of its meaning (Cf. also Genesis 1:2).

This section is followed by another prophetic pantomime (verses 15-17), accompanied by an interpretation (verses 18-23), according to which all of God’s people will be rejoined, with the new David to shepherd them (verses 24-28).

Monday, May 18

Ephesians 1:1-14: When Paul speaks of God’s will here, the divine thelema, the word does not refer to some sort of “faculty” internal to God. It has to do, rather, specifically to Paul’s vocation, which itself is part of the concrete development of the divine plan of salvation. This divine plan—known throughout this epistle as the mysterion—includes Paul’s conversion and vocation to apostolic ministry. Paul’s unique relationship to that “will of God” provides the forum in which the Apostle addresses his readers.

These are called, “the saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” We discern three components in this expression:

First, they are “saints”—hagiois—consecrated people, people devoted to God by call, chosen for the service of God. The first thing to be said for Paul’s readers, then, is that they for a consecrated people. This is a sustained presumption all through the present work.

Second, they “are also faithful”—tois ousin kai pistois.””Faithful here is probably to be taken in a double sense: both believing and loyal. Moreover, the complex expression, “who are also faithful,” infers that their faith and loyalty spring from their consecration to God as “saints.” That is to say, the two expressions are not set apposition, but in sequence. Bishop Westcott, in his commentary on this verse, observes the nuance of this sequence: “So the thought of consecration to God precedes the thought of continuous individual faith by which the members of the body keep their place in it.”

Third, these readers are consecrated and faithful “in Christ Jesus.” Their consecration and faith come from communion with Christ. These things are not separable from Christ. The expression, “in Christ Jesus,” is “incorporative.”

Who were these original “saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus”? Most of the extant manuscripts identify them as Ephesian Christians, but this identification appears improbable. Certain considerations indicate the improbability:

Ezekiel 38: In the composition of the Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 38-39 are especially striking and, at first sight, incongruous. Nonetheless, they form an intentional link between the promises in Chapter 37 and the prophecies of God’s final temple in Chapters 40-48.

Chapters 38-39 describe a terrible invasion from the north, led by a commander of an international army (verses 2-6,15), named Gog. This invasion is not imminent; it will come “in the latter years” (38:8), a reference to the indefinite future (indefinite because only God knows the future) that may be described as the “last times.” Gog represents the final great enemy of God’s people, and his invasion will be the last great attack against God’s kingdom.

The name “Gog” would have surprised none of Ezekiel’s contemporaries, for it was the name of a person from the somewhat recent past and still well known in the sixth century before Christ. The Hebrew name Gog corresponds to the Assyrian Gugu and the Greek Gyges. He was a famous seventh century king of Lydia in Asia Minor, who had died in 648. Accounts of the original Gog are found in Assyrian annals and the History of Herodotus. (If Ezekiel were writing today, he might use, for the same purpose, “Bismarck” or “Garibaldi.”) The name is not especially important for the identification of the invader; like all the other names in this chapter, it is symbolic of evil realities much larger and more menacing than their historical references.

Thus understood, Gog and his forces will reappear in Revelation 20. (“Magog,” by the way, appears to be an abbreviation of the Hebrew min-Gog, “from Gog.” In the Book of Revelation he is a derived ally of Gog.) The most important thing to know about Gog is that God’s people do not need to fear him, for his doom has already been determined.

Tuesday, May 19

John 13:31-38: If Simon Peter could deny Jesus, any one of us could do so. Simon, after all, had not believed himself capable of such a thing—“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’”

Peter was so utterly resolved on the matter that, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden, Simon attacked them with violence. Alas, he was neither the first man nor the last to confuse human excitement with divine strength, nor to mistake the pumping of adrenaline for the infusion of grace. Within a very short time after he swung his sword at the unsuspecting Malchus
(cf. John 18:10), we find Peter backing down embarrassed before the
pointing finger of a servant girl. The Holy Spirit took particular care that Christians throughout the ages would never forget that falling away remains a real possibility for any of them. In the words of yet another converted sinner, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Psalms 45 (Greek & Latin 44): This psalm anticipates and most descriptively foretells that future royal wedding. Its lines describe the “bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2): “The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors; the virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You. With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; they shall enter the King’s palace.”

There is even more description of the King’s Son, however, that Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: “You are fairer than the sons of men. Grace is poured out upon Your lips. Therefore God has blessed You forever. Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, with Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride victorious because of truth, humility and righteousness.”

This Son’s riding forth in victory is similarly described in the Bible’s final book: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. . . . And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11, 12, 16).

Ezekiel 39: This continuation of the previous chapter uses the mystic number seven (the inference reached by the addition of the divine number three and the human number four [and if you multiply them, you arrive at the other mystic number, twelve]) to designate the number of years that the burning of the discarded weapons will supply the need for fuel. Seven, too, will be the number of months required to bury all the dead from Gog’s great army.

In this section, verses 11-16, we see Ezekiel’s priestly preoccupation with ritual purity (cf. Numbers 5:2; 19:16; 35:33f). So great will be the battle’s carnage that the beasts and carrion birds will be glutted with the corpses (verses 17-20; cf. Revelation 19:17-21). The chapter ends with a summary of God’s restoration of Israel, which brings this third part of Ezekiel to a close.

Wednesday, May 20

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” You may have noticed this about dead people—they are rather helpless. They can’t even bury themselves. Now dead is how Paul describes man apart from God. He is helpless.

In what sense helpless? Man apart from God is helpless in the sense of not being able to do anything permanently significant with his life. No matter what man without God may seem to accomplish, none of it has permanent significance. When history has at least run its course, all the deeds of men will be found wanting. These deeds include every human accomplishment, every scientific endeavor, every cultural achievement, every political or military exploit, absolutely everything that man, by his own standards, thinks to be great and proclaims to be important. None of it will be found significant.

Human history does not justify itself by its own works. God will not be impressed with any of those works. “All flesh is grass,” according to Isaiah, “and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.” And the prophet goes on to spell it out in detail: “Behold, the nations are like a drop in the bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.”

Ezekiel 40: These final nine chapters of Ezekiel contain his visions of the future temple, to which God’s glory will return. These visions also contain regulations by which the worship in the temple will be determined, rules with respect to the various sacrifices and ministries, ordinances about holiness, and all manner of prescription governing the priestly services of the temple.

These final chapters serve as something of a foil or counterpart to the terrible visions of Chapters 8-11, where the prophet, touring the temple under the guidance of a heavenly minister, witnessed the abominations that led to the departure of God’s glory from the holy place. Now, in these final chapters, Ezekiel is once again led by the same heavenly minister to tour the temple and to behold the return of God’s glory.

The temple herein described vastly transcends the new earthly temple that will be constructed by Zerubbabel. Indeed, this description points in prophecy to a greater reality transcending all the expectations of Israel according to the flesh. This temple is “ideal” in the sense of conforming to the heavenly model of the sanctuary seen by Moses in the Book of Exodus, and of which we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Chapter 40 begins on April 28, 573 B.C. Then begins the measuring of the new temple, following the dimensions determined by God Himself. (Following the Greek text, the reader will be spared undue confusion by omitting verse 30, which seems to represent either a later addition or a corruption of the Hebrew text.)

Ascension Thursday

Psalms 47 (Greek & Latin 46): Its eternal, “heavenly” character is an essential and defining feature of the priesthood of Christ our Lord. According to Hebrews, indeed, “if He were on earth, He would not be a priest” (8:4). We have been redeemed and justified by Jesus, our High Priest, not only by the shedding of His blood, but also by the power of His glorification over death, because He “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25).

Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the Cross, by which He ransomed us and paid the purchase of our souls, was completed, fulfilled, brought to perfection by His Resurrection and entrance into the heavenly holy of holies, that place “behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:19, 20).

The Ascension of Christ is not, then, an afterthought, a sort of postlude to salvation. It is not merely an appropriate but optional parade celebrated in consequence of the victory. It is an integral part of the triumph itself; or more properly, it is the crowning moment of the Lord’s priestly offering. The Lord’s Ascension is a ritus, a liturgical event.

In this respect Hebrews contrasts the earthly tabernacle of the Old Testament, the scene of the Mosaic sacrifices, with the eternal tabernacle of heaven, consecrated by the glorification of Jesus: “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (9:11, 12).

This Ascension of Christ into glory is likewise the object of biblical prophecy, especially in several places in the Book of Psalms. One of the more notable places is today’s psalm: “God has ascended with jubilation, the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Oh sing to our God, sing! Sing to our King, sing!” This is an invitation to us on earth, a summons to join our voices in jubilation with the angels on high. The Ascension of Christ is the event where heaven and earth are joined forever.

Ezekiel 41: Everything in the temple expresses the principles of mathematics. In the Bible (as in Pythagoras and Plato), numbers are sacred; they are spiritual emanations of God’s creative act, giving form, structure, and significance to the universe. Numbers are the basis of “form,” that internal principle of proportion that causes things to be what they are. And because the knowledge of anything consists in the comprehension of its form, all knowledge involves a mathematical perception, a “measure,” the perception of “limits,” which “define” things.

Even this future temple—a reflection of the heavenly sanctuary seen by Moses on Mount Sinai—now being “visited” in prophetic vision by Ezekiel, is shaped (that is, receives its form) by the principles of measurement. Because the house of God is a house of order, not chaos, it is a house structured according to the eternal principles of proportion.

Step by step, and in reverent silence, the angelic tour guide patiently lays his royal cubit stick to determine the proportions of the sacred space. The unit of measure that he employs is the royal cubit, which in modern measurement is 52.5 centimeters or 20.6692 inches.

When the heavenly minister enters the Holy of Holies to take its measure in verses 3-4, Ezekiel reverently remains outside; when that inner sanctuary has been measured, the angel gives the prophet a brief explanation.

Ezekiel also receives an explanation of the altar in verse 22. The elaborate carvings described in verses 19-26 are early proof that the Jews of that period (and for centuries to come, well into the Christian era), did not interpret the Decalogue as prohibiting works of representative art in places of worship.

Friday, May 22

Ephesians 2:11-18: The great theme of the Epistle to the Ephesians is the reconciliation of all things in Christ. Paul introduced this theme early in the epistle, speaking of “the mystery of [God’s] will . . . that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times that He might gather together in one all things in Christ” (1:9-10). For Paul this universal reconciliation is not a theory about history. He sees it being visibly worked out already in the actual events of history. The first fruits of this universal reconciliation can already be observed in the founding of the Church, because the Church herself is founded on a specific act of divine reconciliation—namely, the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in one community. This unexpected and improbable reconciliation, which was already being enacted in Paul’s own lifetime, was the beginning of a more universal, even cosmic reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Therefore, correctly to understand God’s final purpose in history, the key is to grasp this reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in the one body of the Church. The means of this reconciliation is the Cross, where the death of God’s Son neutralized the difference between Gentile and Jew. Christ Himself, after all, “is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”

This Law, given on Mount Sinai, was what separated Jew and Gentile, but in His death on the Cross “abolished” that wall of separation. By reconciling all men equally to God on the Cross, Christ reconciled them to one another. So, says, Paul, “through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”

Ezekiel 42: This chapter of Ezekiel elaborately describes the temple area enclosed by a wall that made “a separation between the holy and the common” (42:20). In Holy Scripture there is a strong sense of sacred space, a consecrated area devoted solely to sacred worship. Indeed, the Greek verb meaning to “divide” (temno) provides the root of our word “temple,” designating a special space set apart or “divided” for sacred worship. (The same verbal root gives us such English words as “time” and “temporal.” Just as space is “divided,” so is time.)

The original type of such space was the area adjacent to the Burning Bush, which Moses could not enter without removing his shoes. (Observe that in Ezekiel 42:14, the priests were required to change their clothing when they entered or left the temple. Secular clothing was inappropriate within the sacred space, and liturgical clothing was inappropriate outside of it.)

When Moses later received the Law, all of Mount Sinai became sacred space, off-limits except to those designated to approach the Divine Presence. In varying gradations, all the space of the temple was consecrated and, therefore, off-limits except to those designated for entrance. Most sacred of all was the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could enter, nor could even he enter it except on the holiest day of the year (the divided and thereby consecrated “time”), which was the Day of the Atonement.

Here on earth, all consecrations of space are reflections of heaven itself, that tabernacle not made with hands, where our own Forerunner and High Priest has entered once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption for us.